Thursday, January 9, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Beshalach
9 Shevat 5774/January 10, 2014

It’s been a while since I’ve read Stephen Covey’s classic “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. Recently I opened my highlighted, marked-up copy of the New York Times #1 bestseller, and was again swept away by its insights.
In the first chapter of the book, Covey writes that he studied self-help books written in America over the course of the last two hundred years. He noticed that for the first 150 years the books all focused on developing character ethic as the foundation of success – integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, etc. The character ethic taught that there are basic principles that govern effective living, and that enduring happiness and success can only be achieved by integrating those principles into one’s basic character.
            Shortly after World War I however, Covey found that there was a shift of focus from character ethic to personality ethic. Success became more of an outgrowth of public image, attitudes and behaviors, skills and techniques, and how one’s personality came across to others. No longer was the focus on genuine internal transformation, now the focus was on getting others to like you and be impressed with the persona you displayed, even if not authentic.
            When I read his powerful observation, I remembered that I had read about a similar concept in the sefer ‘Tzav Hasha’a – (The call of the Times)’ authored by Harav Yaakov Meir Shechter shlita.
Rav Shechter relates that during his youth his rebbe was Rav Yudele of D’zikov zt’l. Rav Yudele once told him that after the First World War that anyone who had a ‘keen perception’ was able to detect a radical reduction in people’s level of satisfaction and happiness with life. There was a noticeable change in the demeanor of those born after the war, from those born before the war. This was true not only in the spiritual realm, but in the physical realm as well. Whereas before the war people generally felt great satisfaction and pride in their work, and people accepted their lot in life – familial, community, etc. – as it was, after the war there seemed to be a palpable change in people’s general demeanor and happiness.
It was fascinating to see two similar ideas in two such diverse sources. These two ideas explain each other. If society is more focused on quick-fix and is ready to sacrifice internal genuine accomplishment for transient external depthless facades, it is understandable that people have less satisfaction and take less pride in their accomplishments.
This year marks the hundred year anniversary of the beginning of World War I. If this was a problem almost a hundred years ago, we know how much worse it is today. We live in a society in which we are inundated by advertisements which urges us to focus on the material things we lack. Ours is a world of superficiality whose primary focus is on externalities and image. Many have sacrificed their children on the altar of image, paying homage to a deity which can never be satiated, and doesn’t really care for its adherents.
True happiness can only be achieved when we tap into our true selves and respect and love ourselves for who we truly are. It comes with work and effort. Once we have achieved that level of love and respect for ourselves, we can love and respect others for who they truly are as well.  

      Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
      R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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